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The Effects of Smoking on Womens Health

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Updated June 22, 2009

Hormones and Smoking

Estrogen replacement therapy provides beneficial protection, to post menopausal women against the risk of osteoporosis. But these benefits are many times negated by the increased cardiovascular and other health risks associated with smoking while taking hormones.

Women who smoke face a serious increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke when using estrogens. This risk should be discussed with your physician before beginning hormone replacement therapy, if you are a smoker. Your doctor will assist you if you choose to quit smoking.

Osteoporosis and Smoking

Osteoporosis affects most of us if we live long enough. But there are certain things we can do to reduce our risk of osteoporosis such as participating in regular physical activity and making sure we are getting 1000mg to 1500mg of calcium daily. Smoking causes a significant increase in the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Women who smoke, one pack of cigarettes a day, often experience a loss of bone density equaling five to ten percent more than nonsmokers by the time they reach menopause.

Bone density scanning, to determine the density of your bone structure, is recommended for all women beginning at age 40. Bone density scanning is particularly crucial for women smokers so that changes can be noted and treatment can ensue if osteoporosis is noted.

Heart Disease and Smoking

Approximately 34,000 deaths in women from ischemic heart disease are attributed to smoking each year. Although most of these deaths are in women past menopause, the risk of smoking-related heart disease is significantly higher in young women smokers.

Researchers in Denmark have found a 50 percent greater risk of heart attack in women smokers over men smokers. This difference may be due to the interaction of estrogen with the chemicals found in cigarettes.

Cervical Cancer and Smoking

All women should have annual GYN exams that include Pap smears and for women who smoke the necessity is even greater. Studies show that smoking may lead to the development of cervical cancer; one study found an 80 percent greater risk of developing cervical cancer in smokers.

Cervical cancer patients who quit smoking or who cut down, by at least 75 percent, may have a greater chance of remission and survival than patients who continue smoking.

Some thought is given that chemicals found in cervical tissue which are also found in cigarettes may weaken the ability of cervical cells to fight off infection and may create a potential breeding ground for abnormal cervical cells to multiply.

Breast Cancer and Smoking

The American Cancer Society published the results of a study in 1994 which indicated that breast cancer patients who smoke may increase their risk of dying at least 25 percent--a risk that increases with the number of cigarettes smokes per day. The possible risk of fatal breast cancer rises up to 75 percent for women who smoke two packs or more per day.

The good news is that if you quit now your potential risk of dying as a result of future breast cancer remains the same as for a nonsmoker.

Vulvar Cancer and Smoking

Another type of cancer which may occur more frequently in smokers is vulvar cancer. Smokers experience a forty percent higher risk of developing this, devastating, type of gynecological cancer.

Tips for Quitting Smoking

  • Plan ahead to quit smoking on a certain day. When your quit smoking day arrives, make sure you have thrown out all the ashtrays and cigarettes you have in your home, so you won't be tempted.

  • Have plenty of raw vegetables such as carrot sticks, celery, ect. available for the times you feel like eating as a result of your desire to have something in your hand/mouth.

  • Many women fear gaining weight as a result of quitting smoking. Participating in a vigorous exercise program three times per week may help you quit and exercise helps reduce any subsequent weight gain, as well as providing overall health benefits.

  • Joining a support group and actively participating often helps women when difficult times or emotional conflicts occur. About.com's Christine Rowley Smoking Cessation Guide shows you "How to Quit Smoking," and offers support through forums, chats, and email. Her site features a daily tips for quiting smoking section, and many other useful tools and articles designed to help make you an exsmoker.

  • Over-the-counter methods that supply nicotine in forms such as gums like Nicorette and patches, such as the Nicoderm C Q patch, help many people decrease the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Never smoke simultaneously with one of these methods--nicotine overdose may occur.

  • See your physician if you need further assistance achieving your quit smoking goal. He can offer additional methods which are available by prescription.

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